Time for a fresh start
January 5, 2012
Will Saracens' Owen Farrell give England some added kick during this year's Six Nations? © Getty Images
England will embrace a new era next week when interim head coach Stuart Lancaster names his squad for the forthcoming Six Nations.
When Lancaster unveils his 32-man squad on January 11 it could feature as many as 17 players who did not play at the recent Rugby World Cup that was blighted by off-field scandal. England can make a total of 10 selection changes to the 30-man World Cup squad, add two extra players to that group and replace those who have retired or have long-term injuries.
As a result, a host of fresh faces are expected to earn a promotion ahead of the latest battle for northern hemisphere supremacy. This week's Scrum Sevens highlights some of those rising stars pushing for selection.
The 20-year-old Saracens star is surely destined for great things and is poised to take the next step in his career by making the grade for the Six Nations. Some may suggest that the presence of his father among England's interim coaching team may have boosted his chances of a promotion but there is no doubt that Farrell Jnr has the game to make a major impact in the Test arena - just as he has on the domestic stage.
He kicked Saracens to Aviva Premiership glory last season and also took a starring role for England U20s as they came up just short against the Baby Blacks at the International Rugby Board's most recent Junior World Championship. His continued excellent form will see him by-pass the Saxons squad and surely claim a place in the elite set-up where he looks likely to claim a key role in a new-look England midfield.
Not an entirely new face having made his Test bow against Argentina in 2009, but the flanker is poised to return from the wilderness on the back of an outstanding run of form. The 25-year-old suffered Rugby World Cup heartache by missing the cut for the tournament in New Zealand despite having been lauded for his attitude during training.
But he responded in the best possible way by knuckling down with Premiership side Harlequins. Victory in last season's Amlin Challenge Cup Final was the springboard to a record-breaking start to the current campaign that saw his side go 14 games unbeaten. Having previously captained the Saxons and skippered England's midweek side on their 2010 tour of Australia and New Zealand, he is also being tipped as the side's leader for the Six Nations.
One of number of exciting game-breakers currently plying their trade at Gloucester, the 22-year-old winger made the step up from the Saxons in the World Cup warm-up clash against Wales at Twickenham but was deemed surplus to requirements for the tournament itself. But with the likes of veteran speedster Mark Cueto set to be cast aside, Sharples can look forward to being a more permanent fixture this year.
Declared the fastest player in the England elite player squad during testing last summer (4.82 seconds over 40 metres), Sharples scored 18 tries in 25 starts for Gloucester last season and while four more this term does not suggest he is in the hottest form, his undoubted talents are unlikely to be ignored by Lancaster and co.
The 26-year-old fullback has been hotly-tipped to resurrect his Test career after three and a half years in the international wilderness. His Test career stalled in the wake of a troubled tour to New Zealand where he was one of four players embroiled in an off-field scandal but time - and stand-out performances - are great healers.
It has been a long road back, via the Saxons, but his superb form as part of a dominant Quins side fully justifies his expected return to the England ranks. Having re-built his reputation, he is reportedly set to benefit from the tarnished image of rival Delon Armitage who has four suspensions to his name in the last 12 months may well move in the opposite direction. So often a livewire in attack, Brown is equally industrious in defence and will push Northampton's Ben Foden all the way for the No.15 jersey for the opening Championship clash with Scotland.
It is a bit difficult to miss the Quins prop due to his fondness for a fluorescent Mohican hairstyle, but if reports are to be believed then we can expect a toned down version of the loose-head to grace this year's Six Nations. Another key figures in Quins' impressive start to the season, he is not a complete stranger to the international set-up having trained with the Test side and captained England at U18 level.
A pivotal force in the scrum, Marler brings added value in his ability to shine in the loose and that may give him the edge over the likes of Alex Corbisiero or Matt Stevens when Lancaster comes to name his side for their Murrayfield opener.
The 22-year-old Scarlets No.8 was recently the subject of a tug-o-war between England and Wales with both countries reportedly desperate to secure his services. Having pledged his allegiance to England, speculation is mounting that he is set to be thrown straight into the midst of a Six Nations battle.
There is certainly room for manoeuvre in the England back-row and Lancaster is a fan of the strong-running forward having attempted to recruit him for the Saxons' Churchill Cup campaign last summer. With another veteran in the form of Quins No.8 Nick Easter reportedly on the way out, Morgan's potent mix of power and energy could prove too good to ignore. And while he plays in Wales that will not affect his availability for England because his contract pre-dates the Rugby Football Union's decision not to select players based outside the Premiership.
The 25-year-old Saracens centre is in line to make the step up having flirted with Test side over the last couple of years. Until now the Durban-born playmaker found his path blocked by the likes of Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape but with both set to be cast aside in the latest shake-up, he can expect to go one better than the appearance he made for the England midweek side against New Zealand Maori in 2010.
Part of Saracens' Premiership-winning side last season, Barritt is rock solid in defence and most defences struggle to contain him with ball in hand. Those are two qualities that England will do doubt welcome ahead of their Six Nations title defence with Barritt set to join a growing line of SA-born England internationals following in the likes of Mike Catt, Matt Stevens and Hendre Fourie.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown